Summer holidays and exciting news!

We are in the midst of our summer break here. I’ve taken 2 weeks off work to catch up on the smallholding and start to prep for winter 2018.  I also have some exciting news to share with you.

The veg plot and friends:
Taking the 2 weeks off work, before the August bank holiday every year, is proving to be a really good time to have off from a smallholding point of view.  There’s so many things to harvest and preserve.  I spent the first few days weeding.  After the prolonged dry weather, then the burst of rain, the weeds have been forcing their way through and bringing their friends.  I managed to weed the potato bed, the squash bed, peas and beans, outdoor tomatoes and the roots beds.  My daughter also helped put some hay (it was too dusty for the horses, perfect for the veg patch so didn’t go to waste) under the squash to protect them from the wet soil.  

This year the plum are non existent but last year was a super year and the branches were snapping from the trees, so we aren’t surprised but it’s a shame.  The damsons are doing ok though and are almost ready.  I’ve spotted a few wild plums along the lane so we will pick them this week and use them.

Apples on the other hand are doing AMAZINGLY well this year!  This variety is Discovery, which we got from Kev over on An English Homestead and they are the nicest eaters ever, I was pleasantly surprised.  Look at the size of them!
More apples on the back trellace as cordons from Kev, doing very well too but later varieties.
 Outdoor tomatoes are loving the long, hot summer weather so far, though the muggy weather we have now is ripe for blight, so we are on blight watch daily.  I can’t recommend this variety highly enough, it’s called “Outdoor Girl”.
This is the second harvest we have had from these and there’s another couple of the same again to come.
 Every year we grow a pumpkin or large squash of some variety and this isn’t huge yet, but we’re pleased with it.  There’s a local county show we go to, for some fun competition where we will show this.  We won first place last year!
 This variety is called Sibley squash and I got the seeds from real seed.  They are supposed to keep very well through winter, becoming noticeably sweeter after New Year apparently.  The plants have been prolific this year.
 The indoor tomatoes are doing beautifully.  After a rubbish crop last year, where I didn’t even get to bottle any, I’m pleased they are coming along nicely.  I’ve never seen so many tomatoes on one vine as this variety.  The variety if Ildi.
Next year we must do more against the cabbage white butterfly.  This year seems to have been horrendous for them!  To be double sure, I intend to grow the young plants undercover and then when I plant out, put them straight under enviromesh.  It’s not cheap but apparently is worth it.
Two of my favourite summer veg, broad beans and courgettes.  Just as well as there’s loads!  Only 1 variety of courgette this year, I prefer the yellow and will stick with that each year now.   
 The kids have been brilliant during our time off and very helpful.  I’ll explain more in a moment, but here they are in my potting (or plotting as Jack calls it) shed enjoying some treats after a morning of hard graft.
 The damsons I mentioned.
 Old apple trees in the orchard, doing well this year.
On the smallholding:

We’re getting the outside jobs done.  Some nice and some not so nice.  There’s not only weeding to be done in the veg plot, but there’s plenty around the smallholding too.  Nettles are everywhere and boy are they stingers.  The car park looks more like a field, so we’ve hand weeded part of it, with the rest to be done.  We have trees to fell to give us Winter 2019 heat as they will need to season for a year or so.  We’re picking up 20 Ross Cobb day old chicks from our supplier tomorrow.  They will be slow raised to a decent weight when they will go in the freezer for 2019 chicken.  They are to be housed for the first few weeks in the poultry shed which is (hopefully) fox proof as we still have a fox issue.  
Additionally we’re picking up some Rhode Island Red day old chicks too, which will start off 2019 laying hens.  Cockerels will go to the freezer too, bar 1.
With all this in mind, we needed a processing area for when the time comes.  Ste has built this small shelter at the back of the smallholding for that purpose.  It’s great isn’t it and will last for years at a small cost to us financially.
Ryan, our female goose as some of you may remember, has decided she wants to sit on her eggs again.  The previous lot that were sat on this year didn’t hatch, so I don’t know if Neville, our gander, is performing or not.  

 Below is the small paddock.  The fenced, nettled area is where we ran the pigs on in 2017.  There is a small wooded area at the back and the rest of the paddock is currently laid to grass.  At the moment we need the grass for the sheep as the horses have the big field, but we just can’t decide what to do for the best with this area in the long run.  The pig area will be brilliant for growing in once it is clear, given the muck they produced.


In the kitchen:
The rhubarb vodka is ready, so I have decanted it into bottles and oh my it is nice.

We decided to sell our kitchen table even though I love it, as I wanted a bigger one.  We were all set until we realised we already have the perfect size table in the dining room which we never use except at Christmas. 

 With a lovely farmhouse tablecloth over it, it really suits the kitchen and is the perfect size for us.

So now we’re reevaluating what to do with the other table and the space we’ve created in the dining room (which was a snug).
The kids have been baking, but I forgot to take photos as I was playing negotiator.  Brownies, scones and millionaire shortbread!  No diets in this house for now!  The kids and Annie had plenty of cuddle time too!  

She simply is the kindest natured dog with them.  She is the perfect guard dog too, you won’t get in the house without being barked at followed by a warm welcome if we tell her it’s ok.  Can’t wish for a better dog.
I also made a tomato soup which turned out to be very bland.  Unsure what to do, the next day I made “half the garden soup” from Hugh’s River Cottage book and when it called for a kilo of toms and stock I decided to just use the tomato soup instead, plus a bit of my ‘souper mix’ from Pam Corbin’s book and goodness me, it worked out well.  
I’ve also been making slow cooker stews, pulled ham, pork and roasting chickens.  A lot will be returned to the freezer once made ready to reheat as evening meals once we are back to work.

The next plan….
So now for the exciting part.  The next plan.  It’s been forming for a year or so, but we’ve taken the time to formalise it whilst we have been off work.  Starting now and until end of May 2019, we are stockpiling a years worth of long life or non perishable goods. 
Come June 1st, we’re embarking on living off one wage and saving the other.  This will allow us to have a years worth of savings in the bank, which leads on to phase 2 of the plan, for another day.
From June 1st we will have an annual grocery budget that equates to £25 a week.  This is only for the likes of milk, butter, flour, cheese, kids lunch items.  Everything else, literally, will come from our ‘stores’ as we refer to it, the years worth of supplies we have stockpiled prior to June.
That means we also need to find an additional £1300 cash to have to hand from June 01st, which is the annual budget.  Any income after June 01st is being saved.  As we’re stockpiling, our outgoings are already going to increase so we need to have this cash as additional to what we have now.  Time to sell what we don’t need and make money where we can.
It’s all part of the lifestyle shift that we have bought in to and I can’t wait to get started.

Making the most of our summer holidays

I wanted to post daily whilst on my summer holidays (time off, not actually away anywhere) but life doesn’t always link in with what we plan.  We have had a lovely few days since I last posted.  We’ve had family days out, picnics, fun, sea, sand, dogs, friends and then at home, more weeding, fixing, cooking, baking, animals and general playing.

This bed took a lot of fixing, actually it was pretty much all replaced.  We decided to do it properly and buy new boards, then putting the yellow pipes in place which will allow me to put the mesh, fleece or net over them once we start again.  The intention is to do this for all of the beds and eventually we will get cages around the fruit too.

 
I weeded it and then Ste took over.

 
He did his thing and this is the end result.

 
Although some things haven’t worked this growing year, others have.  This squash has doubled in size since I started my holidays.  These photos were taken a week apart.

 
I spotted some courgettes that had gone unnoticed, so they will be going into a chutney maybe.  Any others ideas welcome.
 

This golden zucchini has been a staple of our summer – they are delicious.

 
I harvested the tomatoes which are ripening thick and fast now.  I’ll be doing something with these tomorrow when my son has his friend over for the afternoon.  I’ll need to be close to them but not in the same room, so a cooking afternoon it is.

 
The piquant peppers are a funny old shape, but are starting to turn in colour.  A slight red tinge on the top there.
 
 
We have also managed to cure and dry our bacon.  It’s tiny but it’s ours.  The pigs were so lean that we ended up with bacon medallions, but my word were they tasty.  They also didn’t shrink when we cooked them. 

 
We went to Whitby which is just over an hour from our place.  We took the kids and a friend of Grace’s, plus the dogs.  Buster laid in my footwell in what looked like a very awkward position but he obviously liked it.  Rodney was sat with the kids, very proudly too.
 
 
 
In Whitby, I treat myself to 4 new mugs, one of which has an allotment theme to it which made me smile.  Perfect.

 
There is a Millbry Hill, agricultural store, near Whitby so I popped in and bought the little pony a fly rug as the flies are awful here and he’s been plagued by them.  He looks a bit scary with that and a fly mask on, but it’s worth it until the season is over.
 
 
I’ve been making lots and lots of home made food and really got my mojo back there.  I’m enjoying it so much.  Bramble and apple crumble….delicious.
 

The onions have dried out nicely and are ready to hang.  I practiced plaiting on the ones I lifted in the Spring/early summer.

 
I’m pleased with how they turned out.
 
 
I also harvested a giant swede!

 
And plenty of other things.

We’ve had scotch pancakes for breakfast along with our own bacon and bread.  What treats!

 
Its our last day of the holidays for Ste and I tomorrow and the kids are back to school on Friday here.  So back to it.  I’m feeling organised though, everything is done that I wanted to be done in time to go back.  I’ve a list to get through tomorrow, including picking more brambles !
 
 

Day 4 – Christmas potato seed planting and rumtopf

Day 4 of my holidays has seen a beautifully sunny day here in the North East of England.  It’s still breezy though but this year has been.  I’ve never known it be so windy for so long in the past but then I suppose I’ve  not been growing fruit and veg or looking after so many animals before, that the wind impacts?
I’ve still been getting the kids up at a decent time as mine seem to suffer if they have late mornings and inevitably later nights as they can’t sleep.  The kids helped me by feeding and watering the chickens and then collecting the eggs.  What a haul from the last couple of days!

 
The kids spent the next couple of hours playing and I started off the Bachelors Jam or Rumtopf as it is referred to.  Growing up I’d remember an earthenware jar that was in my parents house but I didn’t know what it was for.  Then when I started blogging and read Patty Pan’s blog about Rumtopf and I realised what it was for.
 My Mam kindly gave me the pot when I said I was going to make some.


I added 500g blackberries from our haul last night (which was over 3kg!) along with 250g sugar and left it for an hour before adding a litre of brandy as this is what was given to me by my lovely Mam at the same time as the Rumtopf jar.

I was supposed to make a crumble at the same time but the clock was ticking and I was itching to get out in the veg plot so I left that for later and put the brambles back in the fridge to keep a few more hours. 
The bed I’d tasked myself with today was the fire pit bed.  The previous owner had burnt allsorts in it and I’m forever finding nail, hinges and the like.  I added manure to the soil along with blood, fish and bone and hoped for the best.  Well the cabbages did marvellously and I’d put off harvesting them until my 2 weeks break.
It was a mammoth task.

They were dug out and the area cleared of weeds which was back breaking but very worth it. The Christmas potato order has just arrived so I set about putting them in.  I ordered 15 tubers from crocus – 5 each of Charlotte, Duke of York and Pentalin Javelin.  These were the only ones I could find as the other online stores I either missed or didn’t sell any.

I planted them all 30cm apart and 60cm between rows as there was plenty of space to do so.  Here they are with their beds now looking like something from Halloween (picture taken from the opposite end of the bed than the earlier one).

 Here’s the bed once I finished with it.

 
I then tidied up another bed which wasn’t too bad thankfully and sowed some quick crop salad leaves and radish in a space that’s appeared there, where the first early potatoes came out.

I tested out a panoramic view, so this photo is slightly distorted but you get the idea. 

 
Soon it was time for tea and I decided to cook one of the hams we’ve had in the brine.  It’s been in since Sunday so over a week which is a bit too long but after cooking it, it was perfect!  I’ll post the recipe another time.  All of the hams will be cooked and sliced for the freezer.
 
We finished the day off with a walk to forage some bullaces (wild plums).  Someone has already raided our spot but there is a tree most people haven’t found yet, and that was full though it did require some acrobatics.  They are in the fridge now.

 
Ste also finished the stock fencing he wanted to get done.  This will deter the chickens from scratching the area where we use as a dumping ground for weeds, branches that are no good for anything, leaves etc etc.  It’ll keep the animals safe and the rubbish separate.  It means he can move on to the next part ultimately giving the poultry more space. 
 
The kids got their craft items done, the dogs are happy and I’m enjoying my time off.  All in all, a great family day together.
 

Day 3 – baking and veg plot updates

When I was at work, everyone was asking me where I am going for my fortnight off.  Of course, we enjoy a break as much as the next person but we’re not going abroad this time (we are later in the year though, I’m not averse to it).  However what I do want to use these 2 weeks for is a combination of things.  Firstly to spend plenty of time with Ste and the kids doing things that they find fun and that do not cost the earth.  Secondly to get on top of the veg plot, greenhouse and polytunnel and house chores so that when I’m back to work, it’s more of ‘maintaining’ than ‘drowning’.  Included in the house thoughts is cooking for the freezer. We do have some space left in there, not much seen as though they are all full of meat.  However I’ll make sure they are stacked well and there’s plenty of home made produce in there for go-to meals.
Today started off as always feeding the animals and checking everything is present and correct.  The dogs came with me.  They love that I am off work.  Then back in for crumpets and a cup of tea before heading out with the kids and dogs to the feed shop as we needed more layers pellets and corn.  We were back and sorted by 9:15.  The kids offered to help out for an hour by tidying their rooms with the view to spend time after lunch doing the craft things they have both been waiting for.  They did a great job so I am pleased.  Making a start on cooking for the freezer, first up was a lemon drizzle traybake a-la Mary Berry.  I had all of the ingredients in, including the lemons thankfully.  It took no time at all to prepare.  It’s a throw it all in recipe, which suits my lifestyle 100%.

 

It turned out really well so I am adding it (and the cookies I made yesterday) to my batch bake list as the kids loved it as you can see!

In the veg plot, I have a million and one things to do.  I decided the best way to go about it is one bed at a time, finish it and move on.  Sounds obvious but when you get out there it’s hard not to start something and move on before you finish as something always catches your eye and before you know it the day is over.

So today I lifted the onions from Bed 1.  These have been brilliant, great size, didn’t go to seed and every single one came up so as long as the taste isn’t too bad then we will stick with these each year.  If it’s not broken then don’t fix it.  They are Sturon an Garnet (sets).  The bed was full of weeds in between the onions, they’ve been crazy after all this rain.

However I am really pleased with the results.  They’re all drying out head down which my neighbour told me to do.  We’re due a really heavy down pour tonight so they’ll get a wash and tomorrow is supposed to be lovely so they should dry out nicely before being taken into the barn.

I also tidied up the swiss chard as it was taking over, despite us using it regularly.  I’ll definitely be growing this every year, it is so versatile. 

Also the chickens love it so they got all the of bits that I tidied up.

So that’s 2 of the beds weeded and tidied up.  Although I didn’t start on the other beds, I noticed a few squashes coming along nicely which made me very happy.  I’d missed a couple of courgettes whilst I’d been so busy at work too, so I roasted them tonight for tea.

I’m really pleased as we had a free, home raised meal tonight.  It was pork burger (with chilli) in a homemade roll, cucumber and tomatoes, roasted courgettes, red onion and pepper with steamed Athlete potatoes.  It was delicious however a talking point was I’d thought the peppers were peppers when in fact they were chillis, ooops…..Burgers aren’t something I ate until this week – but these are too nice!

I also made a couple of loaves of bread for the freezer and I will continue to so we have them ready to just take out.

We then went out bramble picking for the first time this year and got a great haul which I will preserve with tomorrow as it was a bit late tonight after a busy day.

 
Another couple of photos from today that I took as they caught my eye and I’d like them to look back on for August memories.
 

 

My time off

I cannot believe it is Wednesday evening already! If I was at work this week, it’d probably still be Monday morning! The old saying does say ‘time flies when you’re having fun’. I need to catch up on everyone’s blogs and I will do that later tonight as we’re off to Crook now to collect some equipment for Ste’s gym and seen as though I don’t need to go to bed early, I can stay up reading blogs
We’ve been a bit of a first aid place these last few days. An old hen of ours lost her balance somehow, I think the cockrel knocked her over. Then she couldn’t get up and the whole flock attacked her. Thankfully we were fixing a fence in the coop at the time and Steven stopped it. We segregated her as I thought she wouldn’t make the night, but she did, so she’s back in with the flock now.
Also Ryan has a poorly leg or foot. He won’t put it down. I’ve thoroughly inspected it and can’t find anything obviously wrong.  We’ll treat him like the duck when she went lame and hopefully it’ll sort itself over the next few weeks.
The kids and I have been on some lovely lazy walks, had some brilliant rides out, had family over for tea, friends visiting and generally doing what we want when we want. The animals have all been spoilt and the veg plot is having the day spent on it tomorrow. A couple of the beds are ready to empty and either cover up or plant winter goods.
The farmers are very busy with their harvest buy not too busy to discuss our smallholdings latest addition. The 2 of them will be joining us in 2 weeks time, or there abouts. Once they’re weaned. No doubt that’s enough for everyone to guess what they are 🙂 but if not. Pics soon!
I’m going to take lots of photos of the veg plot tomorrow along with the orchard. Fir now here’s some close ups of the sloe bush and berries plus a few extras to keep the blog up to date. Hope everyone is having a lovely few days of sun like we are here.